Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains takes his readers on a journey through the history of the brain. His quest is to discover if and how the Internet, which is always on and always prompting its users to decide ‘should I, or should I not click on this hyperlink,’ has changed his brain and ours. What he discovered is yes! The Internet has changed how we use our brain. Carr finds it frightening that people can no longer concentrate for long periods of time reading and thinking deeply, because of the changes that have occurred.
Here is a video which summarizes Carr’s main points:
When I was about two-thirds through the book I started questioning why does it really matter that our brain has changed? Even Carr admits that throughout the centuries our brains have changed, so that now people perform better on IQ tests than they did a century ago simply because our education has changed and therefore our brains. He argues that the Internet is eroding our culture since we are out sourcing our memory to the Internet. But, I would argue that our culture is not fading away, but only changing. Just like cultures are different throughout the world, they change from generation to generation. There is nothing inherently wrong with either culture, just different and one is more familiar to us than the other. For example I was encouraging a Hungarian friend to try drying her towels in the dryer while in Sweden [most Hungarians don’t have dyers], so she could have soft fluffy towels [like I enjoy as someone who grew up in Canada with a dyer], she responded by saying “I’ve had hard towels my whole life, why would I want anything else?” Perhaps, Carr wishing he and everyone else would still be able to concentrate for long periods of time is like my friend wanting hard towels? It is what he has always known.
What does this mean for us emerging hyperlinked librarians? It means that we do not need to be afraid of the changing culture of our brains, because they are always changing. We can be free to adapt our programs and spaces to this new reality. We should be using new technology, as Jenny (Clark, 2015, September 3) did in creating her craft club, to link things together as they are on the web. This the new normal in our society and we should embrace it in our libraries and not shy away.
At the same time we should not ignore what Carr is saying. He states at the end of his first chapter “I missed my old brain” (p.16) and I would guess that there are other people who miss how their brains functioned before the advent of the Internet. These people are also users of our libraries, so they should not be ignored when planning our programs and spaces. When conducting surveys of users, as encouraged by Casey and Savastinuk (2007), we need to be sure that we are listening to the voices who still desire a library which is quiet and conductive to linear thought.
In essence we need to make space in our libraries for both hyperlinked minds as well as deep thinking, contemplative minds.
Carr, N. (2011). The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service [electronic book]. Medford, NJ.: Information Today.
Clark, J. (2015, September 3). The hyperlinked library model. Retrieved from http://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/librarylady/2015/09/03/the-hyperlinked-library-model/